West Virginia Hospitality & Travel Association lays out legislative priorities

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Hospitality & Travel Association (WVHTA) released its legislative priorities for the 2021 session and much of them are geared towards the needs created in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The session resumes February 10 and the WVHTA is encouraging Governor Jim Justice and legislative leadership to focus support on local businesses in the restaurant, travel and lodging industries that have been particularly hard hit during the pandemic.

“In recent years, West Virginia has begun to embrace the importance of the hospitality & tourism industry for the economic development of the State. Both Governor Justice and members of the Legislature have emphasized the impact that tourism dollars have on our economy,” said WVHTA Executive Director, Richie Heath in a release.

“Legislators have also started to loosen the reigns on regulatory restrictions, providing for the passage of the ‘Brunch Bill’ and other WVHTA-related measures aimed at enhancing customer experiences for our members. We hope that this trend will continue as our local restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions need all the help they can get in weathering the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Heath laid out the legislative priorities to MetroNews that include past and new priorities.

Richie Heath

Priorities for 2021 include continued support of tax fairness legislation aimed at requiring marketplace facilitators, such as AirBNB, to collect and remit hotel occupancy taxes for properties rented on their platforms. A new pandemic driven priority is providing state-level liability protections to essential workers and businesses, including the hospitality and travel industries, from COVID-19 related injuries.

“We have some priorities that are carry over from the prior session but with the impact of the pandemic on our members, it accentuates the need for some of those items,” Heath told MetroNews.

WVHTA said in a release that other priorities include streamlining and reducing regulations such as food and alcohol laws that have been put into place during the pandemic and make them permanent. This include takeout alcohol and extended outdoor dining.

Heath hopes the legislature can maintain a direct and dependable funding source for tourism. He said additional state and federal relief for businesses impacted the pandemic will always be needed.

“If there are additional opportunities to provide grant funding programs to our members, local businesses, I know that would be a welcome sign,” Heath told MetroNews.

Heath said with the current priorities and the leadership he sees under the state Capitol dome, he expects a tourism comeback in 2021.

“Senate President (Craig) Blair has been a strong supporter of the travel and hospitality tourism industry in recent years. Last year he was the led sponsor of one of our chief measures,” Heath said.

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